he excused himself. ‘I’d better get on with it.’
‘You’ve got a medical centre here?’
‘Just a small one,’ he responded to Tori. ‘Would you like to see it?’
She nodded, pushing her chair back. ‘Coming, Sas?’
Sarah shook her head. ‘I might go and have a chat to Marjorie and see how her ankle is doing. Then I intend to go and flop on the beach with my book.’
Tori turned back and Sarah knew that if she wanted company she only had to say so. However attracted Tori was to Ben Dawson, at present it was simply intended as fun. If Sarah needed her, there was no question of where her loyalties would lie.
So Sarah smiled encouragingly. ‘You go,’ she told Tori. ‘You’ll know where to find me later.’
‘Are you sure you don’t want to come?’
‘Absolutely.’ Sarah’s use of the affirmation Ben seemed to prefer was deliberate.
Dark eyes regarded her with a quizzical expression but his smile was more than simply courteous. ‘Nice meeting you, Sarah. And thanks for your help with Marjorie.’
‘It was a pleasure.’
‘Let’s hope the rest of your holiday isn’t interrupted by further medical dramas.’
‘Or any other sort,’ Sarah murmured.
‘Indeed.’ Ben held her gaze just long enough to let her know he had received her message. Then he turned to Tori and his easy grin surfaced again. He crooked his elbow. ‘Shall we?’
‘Absolutely.’ Tori slid her arm through his, turned to give Sarah a gleeful glance and then they were gone, screened by the palms lining the pathway to the main building complex.
Sarah stood up slowly, oddly disappointed that her suspicions regarding Ben’s integrity had been so readily confirmed. Then she shrugged inwardly. What business of hers was it, anyway? She wasn’t her sister’s keeper and spending some time alone would not detract in any way from her enjoyment of these surroundings. Sarah Mitchell had learned very early in life that her own company could be preferable at times.
She didn’t have to be by herself right now, anyway. Shading her eyes, she gazed towards the pool.
‘Yoohoo!’ Marjorie raised a champagne flute in her direction. ‘Over here, darling! We’ve saved a glass for you.’
‘IT’S you he’s interested in.’
Sarah snorted. ‘Yeah, sure.’
‘I’m serious.’ Tori buried her spoon into the bowl of fruit salad she had chosen for dessert. ‘Is that mango or pawpaw, do you think?’ She popped it into her mouth without waiting for Sarah’s opinion and sighed with pleasure. ‘Mmm. Whatever it is, it’s delicious.’
The dance floor of the resort’s main restaurant was being taken over by a group of islanders as Sarah and Tori finished their dinner. Men crouched to one side, holding small drums, and the women lined up, barefoot. Grass skirts swirled and rustled as they moved and the garlands of tropical flowers in their hair and around their wrists and necks added vibrant colour to the scene. Sarah turned her chair so she could watch the performance and from the first unaccompanied notes of rich harmony as the group started singing she was utterly captivated.
The song was joyous, the faces smiling, but somewhere in the layers of harmony there was a poignant sound that recognised how suffering could contribute to happiness. Sarah had never heard anything like it and was moved almost to tears. Then the mood changed and the women stamped their feet to the beat of the drums. The music soared with the new tempo and it was impossible not to tap her feet and clap along with it.
It wasn’t until she was clapping until her hands hurt at the end of the performance that Sarah noticed Tori’s face.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘You were practically dancing on the table, Sas.’
‘I was not!’
‘Yes, you were!’ Tori was still grinning. ‘If Ben had seen you just now he wouldn’t think you were so uptight.’ She stood up. ‘Let’s go for a walk on the beach. I want to see the last of that sunset.’
Sarah followed but she wasn’t thinking about any sunsets. She had been ignoring Tori’s odd comments about Ben ever since she had come back from her tour of the medical centre, but this one had touched a real nerve.
‘Did he actually say he thought I was uptight?’
Tori nodded. ‘He asked what your problem was—and if it was all men you didn’t trust or just him in particular?’
Sarah chuckled. ‘Both.’ But her amusement faded rapidly. How could he have seen so much in such a short space of time? Especially when she knew how good she was at keeping things hidden. ‘I hope you didn’t spend your whole time together talking about me.’
‘Enough to give me the distinct impression that it’s not my company he would prefer. I’m happy to back off, Sas. Why don’t you give him a chance?’
‘Even if I was desperate for a man—which I’m not—he’d be the last one I’d choose.’
‘He’s not attractive.’ If she said it firmly enough, she would believe it. Wouldn’t she?
Tori certainly didn’t. ‘Oh, come on! He’s gorgeous! Kind of halfway between Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, I thought.’
‘Looks aren’t everything. You should have learned that much from Robert.’ Sarah stooped to pick up the sandals she had just kicked off. She wiggled her toes in the sand appreciatively. ‘A cute body and a killer smile are purely surface attributes. They don’t really count much as far as I’m concerned.’
‘What does really count, then?’
‘Kindness,’ Sarah answered after a thoughtful pause. ‘And intelligence.’
‘Ben’s kind. Look at how much those kids love him. And he’s a doctor, for heaven’s sake. He can’t be stupid.’
‘He’s not a real doctor.’ Sarah shook her head dismissively. ‘Looking after sunburnt tourists at holiday resorts? It’s a cop-out. Like working on a cruise ship or for a drug company. Doctors like that don’t really want a career. They’re in it for the social life and the status. Oh...look!’
Sarah was more than ready to change the subject. That odd feeling of being somehow let down returned every time she thought about Ben and his tropical island dream job. She was pointing now to make sure Tori turned her attention seawards. The final throes of a dramatic blood-red sunset were gilding the water and highlighting the silhouettes of smaller, surrounding islands. The perfect finishing touch was a replica sailing ship, just beginning to furl some of the huge sails as it made its way towards the jetty.
Tori sank down on the sand to sit beside Sarah, but she could enjoy the view and talk at the same time.
‘I think you’re wrong about Ben, Sas. I like him, I really do.’
‘He’s all yours, then,’ Sarah said lightly. ‘Think of him as part of the holiday package. An extra treat.’
‘I’d rather you had the treat.’
‘Why?’ Sarah forgot the sunset for a moment as she caught the unspoken message. ‘I’m OK, Tori. Maybe it has been two years since anyone’s been interested in me but I’m not burning up with frustration here.’
‘There’s plenty of interest. There always has been. You just chase everyone away.’
Sarah was silent for a few seconds. This wasn’t the kind of indignant ‘all men are bastards’ support she had come to rely on from Tori. She always started any relationship with the hope that this was going to be it, but she had clocked up enough experience now to know that they always turned to custard. The only variation was how long it took. Maybe Tori